Unrestrained pilgrim activities and garbage generation threaten to spell doom for the Mani Mahesh Lake in Himachal Pradesh

At the base of the lofty Mani Mahesh Peak in Himachal Pradesh’s Chamba district lies the picturesque Mani Mahesh Lake. The route to this scenic site, one has to pass through the lush Mani Mahesh Valley that is rich in alpine floral and faunal diversity.

However, this ecological paradise is threatened by unchecked and random human activities. The lake is considered holy and every year, thousands of pilgrims arrive here for the Mani Mahesh Yatra on the occasion of Janmashtami and Radhashtami. This year, the yatra began on August 28 and ends on September 15.

During the festival, while administrative and security services are provided by the State government, several social organisations extend langar services to pilgrims by providing free food and accommodation in tents along the 13-km-long trekking route from Hadsar to Mani Mahesh. This leads to accumulation of garbage all along the route.

Apart from that, more than 200 small dhabas sell cooked food as well as packed food items in polythene or plastic packets and bottles. As the garbage is discarded along the way, on an average, daily 25-40 kg of non-biodegradable waste is generated by the pilgrims.

Sometimes, the dhaba owners even burn the garbage in the open resulting in generation of acrid, harmful gases. The unburnt/half-burnt waste is left in the open or thrown down mountain streams, causing irreparable damage to the air, soil and water in this ecologically fragile Himalayan alpine habitat.

Even available toilet facilities enroute are not sufficient for such a large volume of pilgrims and this only increases pollution in the Mani Mahesh stream.

Unfortunately, no initiative has yet been taken by the Himachal Pradesh government to check this unbridled violation of environment norms. The very existence of the Mani Mahesh Lake will be threatened if things are not brought under control immediately.

Even rare two species of alpine herbal plants Phen Kamal (Saussurea simpsoniana) — grown at the height of 4,400-5,600 ft and blooms during July–September — and Paper Cup (Pleurospermum candollei) — grown at the height of 3,600-4,800 ft and blooms during August–September — are plucked by some people and openly sold to pilgrims. These two might well disappear from the valley unless strict action is taken.